Many years ago, I saw a poster on a wall in one of the buildings on a military base where I was posted as a junior enlisted person. The poster’s message stuck with me. It showed a picture of a person stretching his reach to paint an obscure area of a machine foundation. It was a location that nobody would ever see, even if one was looking for it. The caption under the picture read, “Integrity means doing your best even when no one else will know.”
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In my mind, this message conveyed the essence of the meaning of integrity: Doing what’s right because it is the right thing to do.
What made me think about this? As I write this column, the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational golf tournament was airing on television. The event was rained out the previous Sunday, so I switched to the Golf Channel. A Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tournament was on.
The first action I saw was that of media darling Michelle Wie trying to hit a golf ball out of a water hazard. Ms. Wie had one foot in the water and another foot on the bank of the pond. She took a mighty swing, a huge spray of water shot into the air, but the ball barely got out of the water. After she finished swinging at the ball, she relaxed her grip and her club touched the ground inside the hazard line. In golf parlance, she “grounded” her club inside the hazard line; a two stroke penalty.
The tournament rules officials notified Ms. Wie that she was, in fact, given a two stroke penalty. This made a tournament win very unlikely and a significantly lower pay check highly likely.
The rules of golf can be difficult to understand, and some of the rules might seem ridiculous to those who don’t embrace the game. But when you make your living as a professional, you’d better know the rules of the game you play. Few people would argue that point, but Ms. Wie was apparently one of them.
The integrity issue first appeared when Ms. Wie didn’t charge herself a two stroke penalty for grounding her club, which would have been consistent with the character of the game of golf.
The second integrity issue surfaced at the end of her round when she tried to argue the point with rules officials. Ms. Wie stated that she was off-balance, which is the only allowable reason to ground a club inside a hazard line.
Repeated viewing of the video made it hard for an unbiased observer to be convinced she was off-balance. It looked more like she was disappointed with the fact that the ball barely made it out of the water hazard; she appeared to relax her arms and her grip on the club. She seemed to not be thinking about the rules related to her actions.
Now, contrast Ms. Wie’s actions with those of an icon in the world of golf. His name was Bobby Jones, and he was famous as a superior golfer and gentleman. His integrity was unquestioned.
At one well-documented event, the 1925 U.S. Open, Mr. Jones was in contention. During the tournament, he was getting ready to hit a shot and he grazed the grass near his ball. He wasn’t certain, but he thought he saw his ball move. No one else saw it move, no one else thought he should penalize himself for something he was not certain of. As a consequence of taking the penalty, he did not win that tournament.
Later, as Mr. Jones was being praised for his integrity, he was quoted as saying, “You’d as well praise me for not breaking into banks.” He did what was right because he believed it was right. Over his career, Bobby Jones won 13 major tournaments and to this day is revered within the sport.
Whether you’re a tradesman, an athlete or a supervisor, integrity has a way of balancing the scorecard over time. Take responsibility and be accountable for your actions, whether others see it or not. It’s the entirety of your work that defines who you are and how others perceive you. Do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at email@example.com and (321) 773-3356.